Let’s Talk about… The Bystander Effect

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Imagine it is a Thursday night around 11:00 p.m. You are in your dorm room studying for your exam the next day when all of a sudden you hear someone screaming for help. You look out the window to try to figure out where the screaming is coming from. You do not see anyone, but you see other windows opening and people looking around trying to figure out where the scream came from. What would you do next?

Most people like to believe that they would call for help, but unfortunately, this is not always what happens. It has been proven that people are less likely to help when they know that other people are present. This is called the bystander effect: people feel less responsible when there are more people present.

This happens all the time, all over the country, all over the world and even on our small campus at Pacific University. Fortunately, the opposite is also true. One person can influence group behavior in a positive way. In the event that one bystander takes responsibility for the situation and takes action, other bystanders are more likely to assist as well. There are a few things you can do to stop the bystander effect from happening.

Notice the event. Often times we are not very aware of our surroundings. Even if we do see something going on that may be a problem, sometimes we choose to look away or keep our headphones on. By being aware of our environment, we are more likely to notice if someone looks uncomfortable or if a situation does not seem right. Recognize it is a problem.

Many times it can be difficult to know if something is a problem. Maybe at a party you see two drunk people heading upstairs and are unsure of where they are going or whether one of them is in a dangerous situation. In these moments, you may need more information in order to make an accurate assessment.

Here are some tips to help determine whether or not there is a problem: take a moment to get more information; look to see if other people appear concerned; try to put yourself in the position of the other person to understand what they might be experiencing in that moment; consider whether or not the situation warrants an immediate response; lastly and most importantly, gather the courage and strength to take action. Take Responsibility to act. Remember that the bystander effect is common.

Only 20 percent of people will take action when other bystanders are around. Step up and remember that most likely no one else will act. There is no need to drastically step outside of your comfort zone. Take a small step and do what you can to help, whether it is directly or indirectly.

Make it known that you are willing to help out; say it out loud because verbalizing your intentions helps you to follow through with them. Mobilize other people around you to help. Ask for help. Create a distraction. Talk to the person directly. It is always important to consider your own safety and figure out what is possible for you to do effectively. However you intervene, it is better than doing nothing.

Looking for other ways to get involved? Contact Campus Wellness to connect to workshops on bystander interventions and sexual violence prevention. Attend the It’s On Us (to prevent sexual violence) Rally at the University Center (UC) Oct. 26 5-8 p.m. Visit the Wellness Booth in the UC on Wednesdays and Thursdays 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Help keep Pacific and your peers safe.


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